Building Your Wings: Flying High with Jay Barker in the Aviation Sector

Jay Barker
Jay Barker

The relentless pace of the aviation industry demands high-performing operations. Airlines must continually optimize their processes to ensure timely and efficient service. This ensures timely performance, meeting traveler demands and maintaining a competitive edge in the robust landscape. Amidst this challenging environment, individuals like Jay Barker stand out as leaders in operational excellence.

As the Director of Global On-Time Performance Solutions at Air Canada, Jay exemplifies this commitment to excellence. With a career spanning over two decades within the aviation sector, Jay has navigated the complexities of airline operations with finesse and expertise.

Recognizing the critical importance of punctuality in the aviation industry, Jay has spearheaded initiatives aimed at enhancing on-time performance across Air Canada’s global operations. From developing innovative strategies to collaborating with cross-functional teams, he has played a pivotal role in driving operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

With a keen understanding of the challenges inherent in the industry, he remains steadfast in his dedication to elevating Air Canada’s performance standards. Jay’s leadership and strategic vision continue to position Air Canada as a leader in the aviation industry further setting new benchmarks for excellence in on-time performance.

Join in as we explore the journey of a leader who embodies the spirit of innovation and collaboration, driving continuous improvement in the aviation industry!

A Skyward Ascent

Jay’s journey with Air Canada began 24 years ago when he stepped into the airline industry with little knowledge but ample enthusiasm. Starting as a station attendant, loading and offloading aircraft, he swiftly developed a passion for aviation. “I very quickly fell in love with aviation and the industry,” Jay recalls.

Within five months, Jay embraced a new role as a Baggage Agent, eager to explore different facets of the industry. However, recognizing the volatility of the airline sector, he transitioned to the Cargo department a year later. “I wanted to develop skills that could be transferable outside of the airline industry,” he explains.

Jay’s career trajectory soared from there. Within another five months, he ascended to the position of Customer Service Manager, marking the beginning of a journey marked by continuous growth and advancement. Over the span of 14 years, Jay climbed the corporate ladder, stepping into various managerial roles across different departments:

  • Manager, Customer Service Call Centers Canada (Cargo)
  • Manager, Customer Service, Corporate Accounts
  • Manager, Sales & Service, Ottawa
  • Manager, Cargo Services, Eastern Canada & Northeast U.S.
  • GM, Cargo Services, Latin America & The Caribbean
  • Director, Cargo Services Canada

His tenure as GM for Latin America & The Caribbean garnered him Air Canada’s highest accolade, the Award of Excellence. Despite this success, Jay felt compelled to broaden his horizons, returning to his roots in Airport Operations. “I accepted a position as the Director, Hub Development,” he shares, acknowledging the challenge of stepping out of his comfort zone.

Then came the onset of COVID-19, casting a shadow over the aviation industry. Jay emphasizes the company’s focus on employee safety and rebuilding the airline from scratch amidst the pandemic’s turmoil. Emerging from this crisis, Jay took on the role of Director of Station Operations & Hub Advancement, where he amalgamated two roles into one.

Amidst the accelerated growth post-pandemic, Jay recognized the crucial link between operational performance, schedule reliability, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Hence, he accepted the challenge of establishing a new department from scratch to enhance On-Time Performance, a critical aspect of the airline’s success. “Our growth was starting to accelerate again, but we lacked experience in the operation,” he notes.

Today, Jay stands as the Director of Global On-Time Performance Solutions spearheading initiatives to address the airline’s greatest challenges and propel it towards greater success. “Operational performance drives schedule reliability, profit and customer satisfaction,” he asserts, highlighting the pivotal role of his department in Air Canada’s journey forward.

From Wanderer to Aviator

Like most people, I love to travel and I love to explore many different countries outside of North America,” Jay reflects, his passion for exploration evident. “The key component to getting you from point A to point B is flying on an aircraft,” he continues, emphasizing the pivotal role of air travel.

I was drawn in by the fascination of aircraft and all of the aspects that go into each individual flight,” Jay recalls, highlighting his initial attraction to aviation. Amidst the hustle and bustle of airports, Jay finds solace in heartwarming moments.

What I find most rewarding are those moments that you see in the airport,” he shares. “You’ll see the embrace of families reuniting with loved ones or families vacationing for perhaps the first time and the joy that you see on a child’s face, that is what gets me every time,” Jay reflects, emphasizing the emotional connections fostered in the travel experience. It’s the heartwarming experiences that make this all worthwhile. He underscores the profound impact of such moments in the realm of aviation.

Frontline Engagement

Jay’s team is tasked with examining all aspects of the operation, within every department and finding new and creative ways to operate better and on time, he explains, underscoring the team’s multifaceted role in improving efficiency. “We rely heavily on data to point us in the right direction,” Jay notes, emphasizing the importance of data-driven decision-making. “We look at new technology and processes to make the operation more seamless,” he continues, highlighting their commitment to innovation.

Crucially, Jay emphasizes the involvement of frontline employees in the process. “We involve employees at the forefront of everything that we do,” he states. “Our frontline is integral in idea sharing, applying and turning these changes into a reality,” Jay shares.

Inspiring Leadership

Accentuating his approach to leadership Jay shares, “I would say that I have 2 leadership styles that I apply every day with my role, with my team and within the organization. I’m a servant leader and a transformational leader.” He highlights the dual facets of his leadership style.

As a leader, my role goes beyond the day-to-day activities,” Jay explains, emphasizing his focus on team development and succession planning. “I allow my team the flexibility to be autonomous and creative,” he adds.

I emphasize outside the box thinking; there are no bad ideas,” Jay asserts, encouraging a culture of experimentation and exploration. The only bad idea is no idea, he quips, stressing the importance of active participation and idea generation. “I want our team to try something, anything new that we have not done before,” Jay expresses, promoting a mindset of continuous improvement. “And if it does not work, we fail fast and move on to the next opportunity,” he states, advocating for a resilient and adaptive approach to challenges.

Coordinated Efforts

Departing just a single flight at any airline involves hundreds of different processes and departments, executing like a symphony, all at the same time, for an on-time departure,” Jay explains, painting a vivid picture of the intricate coordination required in aviation operations. “Inclusion of everyone is key because we are all interdependent on each other,” he emphasizes, highlighting the importance of collaboration across departments.

Whether we are designing a process or focusing on execution of that process, we always have cross-functional and inter-departmental working groups,” Jay states, underscoring the collaborative approach taken within the organization. “Having input from everyone is key,” he continues.

It also provides our frontline with an understanding of how each branch operates, which in the long run will help them in their day-to-day,” Jay adds. Every department needs to be included as one slight change could have an impact on another process that on the forefront, one may not realize.

With these groups, any challenges can be identified at the beginning and everyone can collaboratively work through any barriers towards a solution. Jay emphasizes the proactive and collaborative approach adopted to address operational challenges.

Innovation Exchange

We have partner airlines who we collaboratively benchmark together as we all have different operating environments and ways of working so we spend time learning from each other,” Jay explains. “We also participate in industry events and shows that showcase the latest in technologies and innovations from various companies and vendors,” he continues, underscoring the commitment to staying abreast of advancements in the industry.

We spend a lot of time learning and understanding their products and what types of benefits they can provide to Air Canada,” Jay adds, emphasizing the importance of exploring new technologies and innovations to enhance Air Canada’s operations and services.

Open Doors and Bright Ideas

No idea is a bad idea, and my team is provided with the flexibility and the ability to dream and come up with new ways of working, new and innovative solutions,” Jay asserts, highlighting the culture of creativity and experimentation within his team. They foster the ‘try anything and fail fast if it doesn’t work’ mantra, emphasizing the importance of taking calculated risks in pursuit of innovation.

My door is always open and I’m very easy to get in touch with,” Jay assures, emphasizing accessibility and approachability. He encourages any employee to reach out to him and his team if they have any ideas, no matter what they are, he underscores the value placed on employee input.

We add it to our initiative backlog and explore these ideas when time permits,” Jay explains, outlining the process for considering employee suggestions. A key is to have a continuous feedback loop with the employees, emphasizing the importance of ongoing communication and engagement.

We also recognize employees through our Shine platform if an idea comes to fruition,” Jay concludes, highlighting the company’s commitment to acknowledging and rewarding innovative contributions from employees.

Flexibility in Flight

Work-life balance is so important, especially in an industry like ours which is always operating and never stopping,” Jay acknowledges, emphasizing the significance of balancing professional commitments with personal well-being. Understanding the demands placed on his hard-working team, many of whom are frequently on the road or working remotely, he prioritizes flexibility to prevent burnout.

Recognizing the diverse needs and priorities of his team members, particularly those with young families, Jay allows the flexibility to work from home a couple of days in a week. This accommodation ensures that his team can fulfill their professional responsibilities while also attending to personal obligations.

Despite the demanding nature of their roles, Jay ensures close collaboration within the team. Should a team member require time to refresh and regroup, others are readily available to pick up the slack ensuring seamless operations and supporting each other’s well-being.

Leadership Across Borders

The most impactful leadership experience for Jay occurred in 2015 when he was selected to participate in the Caribbean Canada Emerging Leaders Dialogues (CCELD) program. This intensive program brought together leaders from various sectors including public, private, not-for-profit, and academia. Over the course of two weeks, participants traveled between cities in both Canada and the Caribbean, immersing themselves in learning from industry-leading companies about different leadership styles.

While the program was grueling and took a toll on Jay physically and mentally, he found it to be the most impactful leadership learning experience he had ever encountered. The opportunity to engage with diverse leaders and explore different perspectives deeply enriched his understanding of effective leadership practices.

Onward and Upward

Starting with education is crucial, especially considering the plethora of Aviation Management courses and degrees available now that didn’t exist in the past, emphasizing the importance of a strong educational foundation in the field. Jay highlights the value of starting at the grassroots level, many people in senior management roles started right on the front line, and that is the best place to gain experience and learn about the airline industry.

Apply to airlines’ frontline positions, get your feet in the door and start learning; then the sky’s the limit,” Jay encourages. “So many in management are happy to mentor young professionals willing to learn more,” he adds, underlining the importance of seeking mentorship and guidance from seasoned professionals.

Once you start learning, don’t hesitate to reach out and people such as myself would be happy to spend the time and invest in your future,” Jay states, extending an invitation for aspiring professionals to seek guidance and support as they embark on their journey in the aviation industry.